For a long time now, I’ve been pushing for a separation from the ideas of the X=Y=Z system, with the argument that it’s completely destroyed the traditional philosophy of astrology. One of my friends actually proposed the idea that I seriously write this little article wherein I compare and contrast the modern X=Y=Z system and the Traditional system. It’s actually something I’m a little embarrassed about. Embarrassed that I didn’t really want to do this before, and that I was too arrogant to realize that I wasn’t always aware of this differentiation between the systems, and that I turn around and expect the world to have come to a similar realization around the same time I did. It doesn’t work this way.
Certainly, the world of astrology would be so much easier if everyone agreed on the same system, but we all know this is not the case and will most likely never be the case. However, as my friend pointed out to me, it’s not always people’s faults that they are ignorant of other systems and are only using the system (no matter how right or wrong that system is) that they have been introduced to. Looking at this in the same way, I was also ignorant of the traditional system, fully content to accept the modern X=Y=Z system that I learned from the books. In an attempt to dispel as much ignorance in the world as I can, I’m going to present both systems here. It doesn’t much matter to me what system you ultimately decide to choose and stick with, I’m not trying to convince anyone to switch thinking, but you are not allowed to be ignorant after reading this. That’s the only rule.
Also, be sure to commit this to memory as well.
To begin with, it’s best to explain this term. You won’t find “X=Y=Z” in any sort of astrological glossary, it’s a term I’ve coined myself and spread to other astrologers via excessive usage in much frustrated ranting. In astrological usage, the three variables can be switched for particular astrological objects. X is a house, Y is a Sign of the Zodiac, and Z is a planet. This system is generally used in modern astrology cookbooks, perhaps they are used for the sake of simplicity, but in the end they only serve to confuse students who will eventually be faced with a different system later on in their astrological career. There are fifteen astrological formulas that fall under the jurisdiction of the X=Y=Z mentality, in text, they generally look like this:
“The First house, ruled by Aries and thus Mars, is linked with our physical appearance, expression, etc.”
So, you would transform this text into the first of the X=Y=Z formula to get: First=Aries=Mars wherein they all equate to the same things, in this case physical appearance and expression. Now, remember, there are fifteen of these formulas and they are:
Depending on the astrological opinion of the author, you may also see these three formulas, though they are much less commonly acknowledged:
Now, the big question: what’s wrong with this system? Well, besides the fact that it is far too watered down and it completely disregards the traditional astrological philosophy that has set the foundation of the very art we study, not much. Unfortunately, to answer this question fully and intelligently will take some time and effort, and is definitely far too difficult to squish into one sizeable tablet for easy digestion.
Since I’ve given a brief overview of the definition of X=Y=Z, I feel I should do the same for traditional philosophy. The short definition would be the ideas and reasons traditional authors have been writing since the foundation of astrology. Such authors as Manilius, Al Biruni, Culpeper, Lilly, and Ramesey, who set, continued, and expanded astrology as it is today, or at least, as it would have been without the interference of X=Y=Z.
Beginning of X=Y=Z
It’s difficult to find the first mentions of X=Y=Z in astrology, but perhaps 17th century astrologer William Lilly inadvertently set the stage for its appearance in his text Christian Astrology. In it, Lilly assigns the Signs to houses as ‘co-significators’, these ‘co-significators’ match up to the X=Y=Z formulas in the respect that Lilly did write Aries to co-signify the First, Taurus the Second and so on.
In medical astrology Signs and houses have always shared rulership of specific parts of the anatomy. This was the basis of Lilly’s co-significator system relating houses and Signs together. It seems that Lilly noticed this scheme was constant throughout astrological tradition, or at least had very little variation through the ages and he saw it a strong enough link between Signs and houses to relate them to each other. This does not mean that he agreed with the notion that Signs and houses were in some way related and that the houses derived their meanings from the Signs assigned to them as co-significator, but just that he noticed this astrological anatomical connection between these two fields and felt it significant enough to connect them in this manner. Little did Lilly know that he was setting the stage for someone to misinterpret his intent, and thus may be the first idea of Signs and houses being equated with one another. This idea, though, only accounts for the X=Y, but where did the Z in X=Y=Z come from? Was it a misunderstanding based on ignorance due to a lack of information? Or was it simply the result of dumbing-down well established tradition for the consumption of the masses?
Smackdown: Traditional Vs. Modern
Now begins the fun part – and the meat – of this whole article. In this rather lengthy section, I will put the traditional and modern systems side-by-side and attempt to describe them both to the best of my ability. Again, my intention is not to change anyone’s mind, but to dispel ignorance.
The first point to address should perhaps be the different theories as to where the meanings of the houses originated. Oddly, you’ll find that there are three ‘possibilities’ even though there are only two systems. Obviously, this means one of the two systems must have two theories. We’ll begin with the traditional system.
The traditional system of house associations is based on philosophy, mysticism, mythology, and astronomy. Basically, the houses begin with the Ascendant, as the sun rises it aspects all the other house cusps by a Semi-sextile, Sextile, Square, Trine, Inconjunction, or Opposition. It’s through both the nature of the aspect cast (challenging/harmonious) and the amount of light shed from the Ascendant to the houses (aspects in order of brightness [most to least]: Opposition, Trine, Square, Sextile, Inconjunction, Semi-sextile) that cements the nature of the house. Some houses also are said to have a planet joy within them, and these planetary joy relationships also helped to shade the house meanings even farther.
One modern system states the houses absorbed the meanings of the Signs (X=Y=Z!). An author sums this idea up most effectively in his book:
“Both [houses and Signs] simply represent two ways of looking at the same concept which is inherent in the root idea of the sign itself, be it Aries, Taurus, Gemini, or any of the others…Thus the basic meaning of the first house is neither ‘appearance, disposition, outlook, carriage, health, vitality or inherent condition’, but only ‘Aries’. This in the end contains all that needs to be said.” –Ralph Holden
I’m sure we can all see the inherent problems in this. Holden seems to suggest that we can safely remove one of the four basic foundations of astrology (houses, Signs, planets, and aspects) seeing as how “Aries… contains all that needs to be said” as far as significations of the First house go. Continuing with this idea where he left off, it now means nothing for one’s Sol to be positioned in Ninth house, as only ‘Sagittarius’ needs to be said to get the gist of what Sol here means, regardless of the Sign Sol actually resides in.
Arguments against this occur as early as Culpeper’s works, as he writes:
“Some authors hold an opinion that the signs carry the same signification in order that the houses of heaven do, and Aries should signify life, Taurus estate, Gemini brethren and short journeys, you know the rest. Truly, my own opinion is that many authors invented whimsies, and when they had done, had set them down to posterity for truth; who taking them up without trial, clothed tradition in plush and left poor reason to go in rags. An author said so, ergo ‘tis true, right or wrong’.”
A second modern idea is linked to the new view of astrology used in psychological counseling. That being the houses seem to represent a “Wheel of Life” concerning psychological developmental milestones when listed in their numerical order. The offered list is as follows:
First house: Emergence of the individual
Second house: Awareness of the tangible
Third house: Development of ‘mental ego’
Fourth house: Separation from parents
Fifth house: Discovery of creativity
Sixth house: Discovery of responsibility
Seventh house: Discovery of relationships
Eighth house: Discovery of sex
Ninth house: Discovery of higher truths
Tenth house: Fulfillment of ambition
Eleventh house: Awareness of social issues
Twelfth house: Loss of identity into collective.
Houlding offers better analysis of this system than I could ever hope to.
“Thereafter [the third house], the logic of the theory starts to drift apart and it offers no rational explanation as to why the Eighth house of death should precede the Tenth house of career and aspirations; or why the Fifth house of pregnancy and children should precede the Seventh house of partnership and marriage. Attempts to reconcile tradition and contemporary use are clearly contrived, and points in favor are supported by creative suggestions rather than historical research and study. Again, the theory relies heavily on modern rulerships which find no verification in traditional practice, perpetuating an ever increasing distortion of the traditional house meanings in order to make the hypothesis fit.” – Deborah Houlding
Round One, First house: Mars/Aries vs. Saturn/Aries/Mercury
Modernly, it is said that the Sign Aries and planet Mars are the most obvious connections for the First house, and perhaps does serve some usage in the lives of beginning astrology students, making the ideas shown by the First house make sense. Life, vitality, disposition, such keywords of the First house as this have some connection to the strength, passion, and energy attributed to the Fire Star and Ram. However, after this, some strange rulerships have come from the incorrect association of Mars; words such as ‘action, adventure, and newcomers’ which have no basis in tradition.
Traditionally, the houses start with the ascendant as the day begins with the sun rising above the eastern horizon (which is the physical boundary that sets the Ascendant). Thanks to this astronomical event, the sun’s rays hit the earth, animals stir and awaken, plants quickly switch to actively drawing in the light instead of passively converting and ‘digesting’ the nutrients during the night, thus giving ‘life’ to the world. It is because of this reason that the First house was attributed to that of ‘life’ and since in this world life needs to be contained within a body, it came to signify the conditions of the body.
While in the modern era we often consider ‘vitality’ and ‘will’ to fall under the domain of Mars, you won’t find any such reference in traditional texts, instead, these key points fell under the domain of Sol himself as the giver of life and will to the entirety of the world. Also, you will find no mention of Mars as the master of form, in that there is nothing in traditional texts linking Mars to the condition of the body, he is however, said to give it a tint of red and burns or marks. So, there is no real traditional connection between this house’s significations and Mars, it’s obvious he was only associated here for the sake of simplicity as the ruler of Aries.
So, why then was Aries assigned to this house of there was not supposed to be any real connection between the two? Well, to this we can only thank William Lilly as mentioned above. Anatomically, the First house is said to rule the head and as such rules the entirety of the head and face, or “whatever is above the first vertebra of the neck”, as Culpeper tells us. Also, astrologers will tell you that Aries holds sway over this area as well, and indeed it does. Thus the connection is established.
Why then is Saturn – the greater malefic – attributed to the First house of life and spirit? We are told that the First house describes our bodies, Saturn as the lord of ruin certainly is an odd choice to ascribe to such a fortuitous house. However, we often forget that Saturn also has anatomical hold of our entire bodies. We all are aware of Saturn’s meanings of restrictions, limitations, and barriers and how these can be bad things, but also they can be very, very good things. In this case, perhaps the best thing we could ever hope for. In order to live, we must have a body to occupy, and this is what Saturn supplies for us – a form.
One other planet has had a hand in shading the meaning of the First house. Traditionally, Mercury is said to joy in this house. Manilius specifically refers to this house as the “Temple of Mercury”. In the modern era, we have switched around the house meanings to inadvertently relieve the First house of all of its Mercurial significations. However, in the traditional scheme, the First house was also said to hold sway not only of the condition and appearance of our body, but also the condition of our mind, intellect, and reasoning abilities.
Just why does Mercury joy in the First house? Mercury is an asexual planet, being neither masculine nor feminine and thus can enjoy the station of both depending on his aspectual relationship to other planets and thus mimicking the gender of the planet he’s of the closest relation to. Due to this, Mercury is very well situated in the First house, the house where light (masculinity) and dark (femininity) are balanced within morning twilight.
Round Two, Twelfth House: Neptune/Pisces vs. Venus/Pisces/Saturn
At first it may seem strange that I’m choosing to work ‘backwards’ through the houses. No doubt we all think of the houses as going in numerological order, counter-clockwise throughout the wheel. However, to get a better understanding of the traditional schemes of houses, it’s best to think of them in their daily motion or – as the ancient astrologers called it – the natural motion of heaven. This idea holds that the planets move in both directions at the same time; forward and backwards. The sky will show a planet in the First house being in the Twelfth house just an hour or so later, and then after that the planet will be in the Eleventh house, and then the Tenth, and so on. While we think in terms of the planets’ motions throughout the Zodiacal wheel and compare it to this, there are in fact, two different wheels that should not be confused, but often are. So, while the planets are also slowly traveling throughout their Sign, they are also moving from house to house, wherein they are doomed to climb to an angle in a succeedent house, be in power in an angular house, and then fall from power into a cadent house and so on throughout the houses of heaven.
The Twelfth house has been interpreted as a house of solitude and imprisonment, the place we go, willingly or unwillingly, to be alone and cut off from the rest of the world. Also through modern absorption, this house has come to be associated with all sorts of spiritual matters and is often thought of as the ‘collective wherein which we return’; a sort of gateway to the entirety of the universe. Psychic matters such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, and scrying have also been put to this house, also the negative side of this, witchcraft and those that hurt us unknown and from afar fall under this house.
In ancient times referred to as ‘The house of bad spirit’, it’s no wonder the idea to sugar-coat it’s meanings of hidden enemies, ruin, self-imprisonment, addiction, and other such not nice things came about. The very fact is that, traditionally, weak is bad, and strong is good, regardless of what other creative terms that are thrown in the pot to make the bad seem better. The Twelfth house is the most difficult and hostile area of the entire scheme of heaven, owing its bad reputation to its inability to see the Ascendant through a major aspect. Also, the rule of cadency making it weaker is not assisting it in being a positive area, as well as the astronomical ability for stars and planets in this house to seem fuzzy and not easily observable at the rising of Sol, making them technically ‘combust’ (thus having an association with the hidden) and seriously debilitated.
Thanks to the association of Pisces to the Twelfth house, Neptune has come to be seen as the ruler of this house and thus the implications of spirituality and connections with the All Mighty are drawn. Add to it the Piscean sensitivity to gather all sorts of psychic connotations to it, and the Neptunian ability to dissolve and you’ve got yourself one ueber connected house; connected to the will of all and the power of the universe. However, also thanks to Neptune and the Piscean sensitivity we are also given the deep connotations of this house of imprisonment and addiction, cementing this traditional signification to this house for some time to come. For some reason, however, another modern connotation is the Twelfth house seems to have hold over such large institutions as hospitals, for which I have no explanation. Obviously there is no mentality behind connecting this house with Neptune aside from the fact it is the modern ruler of Pisces (seeing as how Neptune was unknown to the ancient world), however the idea of Pisces being connected to this house is also purely anatomical, with both the house and Sign having signification over the feet.
How then, could the planet of love and glamour be associated with the unfortunate Twelfth house? No surprise that this idea may be astronomical as well. In some cases, Venus is the morning star, being in this position would put her right in the company of the Twelfth house, she would be combust of Sol as he rose, but still be bright enough to be noticed in the sky. Perhaps her continual and repeated position in this part of the sky led astrologers to believe she enjoyed being here. Also, Venus represents the allure, the sorceress, if you will; prompting us to spend more than we could ever afford, for example. Venus represents both allure and mystery, and as such straddles the fence of pleasurable activity and lethal addictions which can be as strong as an iron chain.
After reading the above, it’s perhaps no surprise that this became known as the Temple of Saturn, the house wherein he joys. Concerning this Lilly writes:
“Saturn does much joy in that House [the Twelfth], for naturally Saturn is author of mischief.”
Saturn’s reputation as the greater malefic is usually noted as being he enjoys to make people suffer, so it’s no surprise that the twelfth house has taken these significations, being unable to see the light Sol brings to the world in this house, he seems quite comfortable living in the darkness and silently spreading malice through it. It is also this reason that electional astrologers are told to keep Saturn out of the Twelfth, for fear of him ruining the matter through unknown interventions.
Round Three, Eleventh House: Uranus/Aquarius vs. Sol/Aquarius/Jupiter
The Eleventh house has been seen to signify such things as wide social circles and acquaintances, perhaps owing this distinction to being affiliated with the cold, logical Aquarius who doesn’t always like to be so personal. Such distinctions must make some sense for this house, which has also since been given hold over such things as ‘brotherhoods, business income, civic groups, club members and the club itself, conventions, communities and social gatherings.’ Hampar lists such things as ‘club entrance and alliances’ as falling under consideration of the Eleventh house. Another new object under the reign of the Eleventh house is that of sciences and even astrology itself. Very interesting in that the modern system completely destroys the need of the Ninth house by placing half of its significations in the Twelfth and the other half in the Eleventh so that very little remains.
According to Manilius, the Eleventh house is seen as the most fortunate of all, surpassing even the First and Tenth. Since planets in this house have freed themselves from the unfortunate confines of the Twelfth house, and even then have the zenith to aspire towards, it is taken as a very fortunate house with the significations of freedom and liberty associated with it. The Eleventh house is also far enough to receive the light of Sol as he rises with the friendly Sextile aspect, and being associated with the greater benefic Jupiter has definitely given this house some power behind it. Traditionally known as ‘The House of Good Spirit’ and being a diurnal house have perhaps cemented this house as the most fortunate of all.
Unfortunately, thanks to the interventions of the idea of assigning this house to Aquarius due to the shared anatomical region of the shins to the ankles – even though Aquarius rules systems that are unrelated to this thanks to its traditional ruler such as bones, joints, and teeth – the Eleventh house has been quite misrepresented. Due to the interference of Uranus, the Eleventh house has become a place of science and astrology as Uranus is attributed to electricity and technological advancement. Uranus having lordship makes no logical sense considering the fact that authors writing around the time of his discovery described him as ‘extremely frigid’ and ‘a malefic of equal or greater power than Saturn’. So, assigning this admittedly evil planet with this most fortunate house does not seem to add up.
Running to the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Uranus, Sol and his warm and giving nature is the perfect significator for the Eleventh house. Since this house represents our friends and benefactors, it’s no surprise that Sol is associated with this house as the house shows people who ‘help us shine’. Astronomically, Sol has a lot of power in this house, as he’s almost reached his highest point in the sky, so he is associated with this house as he still has room to ‘grow’ in the sky before he reaches his highest seat. Also, this house is associated with hope, faith, and trust, which serve as perfect metaphors for Sol’s light as hope, faith, and trust help us cut through the darkness of depression so that we may persevere through the hard times.
The greater benefic Jupiter joys in this house and adds his helping hand which compounds the beneficial connotations of this house. Natural influences of Jupiter are described as giving, liberating, and optimistic, which all fit in perfectly with the significations of the Eleventh house. His significations of relief and comfort also give this house the hold over such things as hospitals and asylums which are usually associated with the Twelfth. Being in a ‘friendly’ aspect with the Ascendant also helps cement Jupiter’s association with this house.
Round Four, Tenth House: Saturn/Capricorn vs. Mars/Capricorn
The Tenth house of fame, honor, awards, and achievement has been given a less dramatic make-over. Perhaps due to the fact that both Saturn and Mars have a large amount of power in Capricorn and seem to be able to get the same thing done. The Tenth house is attributed to our aspirations, successes, business, our professional selves, and the public eye. Hampar lists such things as ‘the business itself’ to the Tenth, as well as ‘authority and the dominant parent’.
Since this house holds a good view of the Ascendant by a strong Square aspect, that’s what this house has become known for. Strength and the effort to overcome the obstacles that are in our way to achieve that which we desire. Planets in this house have reached their highest daily station, and unfortunately are only doomed to fall into the cadent Ninth house. While they are in this highest station, they are clearly visible overhead and may be the reason as to why this house is linked with the public eye. Also, the ability for planets in this house to powerfully impose their influence on the Earth below may also have linked this house with the ideas of authority and dominance.
Thanks to the associations of this house with Capricorn due to the shared anatomical region of the knees it has thus also been linked with the ruler of Capricorn, Saturn. Due to this, Saturn has given this house hold over all things with an apparent structure and hierarchy; businesses and nations most notably. Also, Saturn’s significance of the father and grandfather have spread to this house to completely reverse the traditional scheme of the father being the Fourth and the mother the Tenth. However, sometimes you will find astrologers like Hampar – who instead of specifically identifying a parent with a house – prefer to label this house as that of the ‘dominant parent’. Even then, though, this signification makes no sense as the Tenth house represents where we are trying to get to and the ‘power’ we express outwards with the Fourth representing the driving force to get us there or our influences which in many cases would turn out to be that ‘dominant parent’.
With Mars being an excessively hot and dry planet, it’s no surprise that he finds himself employed as co-significator of the Tenth house which marks the Southern most part of the sky. Also, he accidentally finds himself partnered with Capricorn – his Sign of exaltation – as the most Southern Sign. Lilly says Mars itself is one of the three planets that can discern profession (the other two being Mercury and Venus) and when coupled with any other planet (except Saturn) Mars seems to enhance the quality of profession. Perhaps it is that Mars represents our passion and interests that would most easily form into a profitable career and thus was attributed to the Tenth.
Round Five, Ninth House: Jupiter/Sagittarius vs. Jupiter/Sagittarius/Sol
This house is one of the two more boring ones, meaning this is one of the two instances where the modern ruler just so happened to be the same as the traditional co-significator. You would think, though, that with this fortunate happenstance the meanings of this house wouldn’t be too badly damaged, how wrong you would be. Modernly, it seems this house has lost all connection of religion and learning and has become a solely foreign house, relating to places outside of our comfort zone and country. This becomes most obvious when you consider the added on associations with spirituality to the Twelfth and science to the Eleventh I touched on in their respective rounds which originally came from this house and were traded over.
This house has a very beneficial view of the Ascendant, aspecting it via the easy flowing Trine, fortunately for it; this lessens the debilitating factor of its cadency. Also, having the same lords as the Eleventh – granted though now their jobs have switched – has made this house the most fortunate cadent house of all of them. The influences of these two planets – Sol and Jupiter – have given this house signification of fate, divination, and spirituality, as well as any place we go to learn.
Since this house fortunately enjoys the same modern ruler and traditional ruler, it makes it difficult to discuss the difference. However, I’ll attempt to look at this in two different ways. It seems the modern associations of Jupiter with this house has completely overlooked this house’s properties of learning and religion, instead spreading these influences out into other houses based on their modern rulers and maintaining Jupiter’s hold over foreign travel and affairs with this house. Sagittarius was associated with the Ninth house due to the shared anatomical region of the buttocks, hips, and thighs, and thus the modern association with Jupiter.
What we forget, though, is that the sphere of Jupiter is also intimately connected with divinity and thus the spirituality traditionally connected with this house makes sense. In several cultures throughout the world, the star of Jupiter was associated with the king of that culture’s pantheon, be that Zeus or Marduk. The Romans saw the natural phenomena of lightening as the voice (usually the angry voice) of the god Jupiter himself. Being associated with divinity also leads to the association with philosophy and other such belief systems, be they academic or mystic. About Jupiter’s placement here, Lilly writes:
“For if Jupiter be herein placed it naturally signifies a devout man in his religion, or one modestly given…”
Sol joys in this house as it is when he is positioned here that his light shines brightest (perhaps thanks to the angle of the earth), and we feel more of the solar radiation we are often warned against. Adding his own attributes of prophecy and divinity to this house makes the Ninth an even more spiritual seat, seeing as how several cultures around the world saw Sol as the face of god. Anciently named ‘the house of god’, this house has everything to do with spirituality and philosophy, but also is associated with the distant travel and foreign places modern astrology would hold it to, as it is linked with the longer Solar orbit as opposed to the shorter Lunar orbit. Many people worldwide pray to a deity of some sort for understanding of situations beyond their comprehension, and so too is this house linked with people and places we go to understand things more clearly; clergy, teachers, university, etc.
Round Six, Eighth House: Pluto/Scorpio vs. Saturn/Scorpio
To be honest, this was the house I was looking most forward to getting to. This house has had such a modern twist to it that it’s almost unrecognizable when compared to its traditional form. Such things as sex and even some occult elements have also been added into this house, somehow derived from the rulership of Pluto. Also, such things as ‘profound emotional experiences’ and other such events which must change the way someone views something have made this house the poster child for the modern/traditional smackdown. The bleak outlook of ruin brought to us by Saturn has been changed into the more positively accepted transformations via the powers of Pluto.
To the Greeks, this house was known as Epicataphora, which is translated as ‘to be cast down into the underworld’ and this Eighth house serves as one of the two gates to the underworld symbolized by the hemisphere that is under the earth; this house represents the entrance gate to Hell. Not beholding the light of Sol as he rises doesn’t help this house get any sort of beneficial placements (no, unfortunately the inconjunction doesn’t help much).
Thanks to the powers of the modern ruler of Scorpio, this house has become known as the house of ‘profound emotions’ and apparently demonstrates things on a purely psychological level, perhaps owing that particular association with the Sign Scorpio itself. Scorpio was assigned to this house over a shared region of the genitalia and most likely the idea of sexuality came from this association as well. Also, with Pluto being associated with the underworld – a place where no mortal man may tread – it seems this house has also become known as a house of taboo (conveniently forgetting that taboos are purely relative to time, culture, background, and personality) and even deep mysteries like occultism.
Under the signification of Saturn, however, the Eighth house retains its picture as that which ruins everything. Following the idea of Saturn as a god of the harvest, this house symbolizes the end of the harvest season, when the fields are cleared and loss is accepted. It’s death in a very literal and metaphoric sense. This house is also said to rule other people’s finances, being Second from the Seventh, and while this is true, the meanings of loss and grief associated with this house are here to remind us that our loss can be someone else’s gain. Thanks to Saturn being the most barren planet, this house also signifies a loss of creativity and works again to show this house as a house of ruin and decay.
Round Seven, Seventh House: Venus/Libra vs. Luna/Libra
The modern ruler of this house has a bit of a stronger argument for its usefulness than do some of the others; the star of love being associated with the house of marriage makes sense. Those people we fall in love with and the other people we are generally attracted to are associated with this house, and thus the tint of Venus can easily be seen. Libra being associated with the balance of the forces of nature also reinforces the idea for this house signifying other people; those important people who serve to complete the other half of our whole.
Traditionally, the Descendant was seen as a hostile angle, one where we put ourselves in the most danger as the very light of the sun died on this western horizon. Lying in opposition to the Ascendant, the Descendant quickly came to signify people other than ourselves, but since this was a critically hostile angle thanks to what it does to the sun, it seems to have been initially set up to signify enemies only. (Manilius writes that the Tenth house was the Temple of Venus and signified marriage, which would make marriage or relational partners the Tenth house, thus leaving the Seventh house only for enemies).
While Venus ruling this house has preserved it as one of marriage, there are a few situations that don’t seem to make Venus operate well in this house. No doubt romantic partnerships and marriage fall nicely under her scheme as the goddess of love, but other partnerships Venus doesn’t seem to fancy. Astrologically, Venus has no association with business partnerships and contracts that fall under Mercury’s dominion. Those nasty open enemies of ours also don’t seem too well under the cheerful Venetian façade. Venus’s rulership of this house obviously came about under the association of Libra with the Seventh house, as both house and Sign come to rule the bladder, womb, and lower intestines.
Since Sol is associated with the Ascendant via his life-giving powers when he crosses over it, so to – by law of opposition – must Luna come to signify the house opposite this one; the Seventh. By astrological rules, Luna finds great strength in the Seventh for here she is ‘full’ of the light given by Sol on the Ascendant and is thus weakened into her ‘new’ stage while in the First house. Associations of Luna with women in general and the wife have also helped her being assigned co-significator of this house.
Round Eight, Sixth House: Mercury/Virgo vs. Mercury/Virgo/Mars
This is the second house which isn’t much fun at all either. Fortunately finding itself associated with Mercury in both the modern and traditional texts, there’s really not much that can be said about that. While Mercury was associated here for its command over life-force itself traditionally, modern systems seem to only find the superficial connection between Sign, house, and planet enough to lock this planet onto this house.
Traditionally, this house is very unfortunate, being both cadent and unable to behold the light of the sun as it rises. This house is also associated with toil, turmoil, slavery, and work that promises no advancement. The Sixth was generally viewed as a house that was associated with work done out of necessity and the respect a maid demands (that’s not much). Things we pay people to do because we do not want to do them ourselves. You’ll often find this house under the title of ‘the house of health’ but this is very wrong – as stated before – the First house rules our health and vitality, the Sixth represents afflictions to our health via injury, illness, or disease.
While Mercury is associated here both modernly and traditionally, the modern system seems to only accept it as the ruler of Virgo (Virgo being associated here with a shared anatomical connection with the small intestine, guts, liver, and kidneys). Traditionally, Mercury is associated with pure life-force, being both masculine and feminine; this is one reason you’ll find Mercury enjoying the First house of life and spirit and now you find it co-signifying the Sixth of disease and things that attack that life-force. Appropriately, Mercury is also associated with doctors and medicines that work against diseases, both being also found in this house. Mythological, the caduceus – used today as a symbol of the healthcare profession – was Hermes’s staff.
To understand Mars’s connection with this house, it’s necessary to take a trip back in time to when the Mesopotamians called this planet Nergal. Nergal was the lord of the underworld and also the source of diseases and sickness. The lower hemisphere of the chart represents this underworld, with the Sixth being the first house wholly under the Earth. Mars – or should we say Nergal – joying in this house only compounds the misfortunes associated with this house by spreading the diseases his Mesopotamian counterpart was most feared for.
Round Nine, Fifth House: Sol/Leo vs. Venus/Leo/Venus
The Fifth house has been mostly preserved in modern times, even though very few of the associations can be correctly attributed to Leo. Such things as recreation, sport, love, and children, are still maintained in the modern system, but some strange ideas have come up, such as the person we are dating, and the act of engagement. Perhaps this is just to serve as a differentiation between the considerably more ‘serious’ relationship of marriage associated with another house, but is awkward nonetheless. Most awkwardly, all associations with children from conception, through the process of pregnancy, and to birth are modernly recorded in this house, but sexuality has been removed.
Traditionally, the Fifth house is the most fortunate of all the houses under the horizon. Now, all of these houses carry a tint of misfortune to them, as the northern hemisphere of the chart was associated with the underworld in Egyptian times. This association has been maintained in the modern sense in that planets that reside under the Earth are more indicative of introverted forces. What assists this house in its beneficial meanings is the Trine it receives from the Ascendant, showing it easily accepts the light of Sol, even though it is under the Earth.
No connections of Fifth house significations can be accurately traced back to Sol. Arts, children, pregnancy, sport, fun; none of these things are traditionally associated with Sol. Obviously, this rulership is only supported by the anatomical rulerships of the heart, spine, and back both Leo and the Fifth house share. Also, Leo is an awkward Sign to associate with this house as the fertile grounds this house represent are not very well represented by the traditionally barren Sign of Leo, nor the burning influence of Sol.
The Fifth house and Venus have several overlapping significations. Fun, recreation, arts, gifts, luxuries and things that make us giggle, all of these things fall under both the planet and house’s domain. Feelings of love – for partners or children – are found here, making Venus as co-significator of this house make even more sense. Children and sexuality also fit well with Venus as the fertility goddess. Here, Venus wants us to take time and enjoy ourselves in the way we want, however, it is wise to remember that innocent pleasures that fall under this house can easily become strong addictions that serve to break us down and make us slaves to them. These situations are signified by the Twelfth house; who Venus also serves as co-significator for.
Now, the reason the Fifth house and Venus fit so well with one another is that Venus also finds joy in this house and it is directly due to her placement here that the house became what it is. This is most accurately seen when looking over Manilius’s works who tells us the Fifth house is “a region of uncertainty”. In Manilius’s time, the Temple of Venus was not the Fifth, but the Tenth. As such, the Tenth became known as the house of marriages (perhaps because marriage was seen as a social standing in Manilius’s culture?), and the Fifth house seems to have lost out on its significations. However, thanks to Hellenistic astrological philosophy, Venus – as a nocturnal planet – cannot joy in a house that resides above the Earth and must thus be put into a house under the Earth. Unfortunately, all houses under the horizon carry a tint of misfortune to them, and Venus as the lesser benefic wouldn’t make sense in this set up. However, setting her in the most fortunate house under the Earth would indeed be the best thing to do, which was ultimately agreed on.
Round Ten, Fourth House: Luna/Cancer vs. Sol/Cancer
The Fourth house has also maintained a great deal of its traditional signification. The home and ancestry has been maintained, however associations with mothers, childhood, and caring have all been added in via absorption from Luna and Cancer. Conclusion of all matters is a central theme of this house that has been maintained in modern times, however, it’s become known as the beginning and ending of all things. Analogies of the Fourth/Tenth axis as a tree with the Fourth being the roots and the Tenth being the branches are perhaps the most traditionally based ideas for this particular axis. Roots do not change, but branches can grow in any direction.
The Fourth house receives the light of the Ascendant via the brunt strength of the Square aspect, signifying power and motivation. The Fourth house represents the things that drive us to the Tenth house. Where we come from and how it affects us, our father and his disposition (as ancestry is traced through the father) and our relationship with him. The Fourth house represented the very bowels of the Earth, the middle of the underworld and thus carries some rather unfortunate significations. To Manilius, this house was the Temple of Saturn and this – as well as associations with the Earth – have made this house a central focus point in agriculture and mining industries, representing what can be pulled from the Earth.
Associations with Luna have made this a very ‘homey’ house. Relating to our home environment and family life, also associated with deep rooted psychological experiences we have imprinted upon us during our early childhood. The parenting style reflected upon us thanks to the caring and supportive feel the house obtained through its Cancerian associations are a modern invention that can also be attributed to the idea of the great mother Moon. The biggest shift, though, is the switch of the houses signifying the parents. Modernly, the Fourth house rules the mother, as her ruler here is the caring, gentle Moon.
Even though it is philosophically awkward to associate Sol with a house that is under the horizon, the Fourth house is a good place to put him; Sol being a natural significator of men and fathers makes him at home here. Philosophically, the Fourth house marks the sun’s transitory stage between his death on the Descendant and his rebirth on the Ascendant. In school we are told the sun’s light is the source of all energy, and in ancient religious philosophy this association is maintained with the idea of the sun being the source of life and even going so far as to astrological associate him with the inner will and vitality of a native; this all fits in very nicely with the concept of the Fourth house and the power it demonstrates with its significations of the treasures of the Earth and motivating forces.
Round Eleven, Third House: Mercury/Gemini vs. Mars/Gemini/Luna
The Third house remains largely unchanged and is perhaps the closest to perfect in condition. Significations of familiar surroundings, short journeys, family members, and communication are compatible in both the modern and traditional viewpoint. Modern significations are held up by the associations of Mercury and Gemini which are said to hold rulership over this specific house.
Ancient authors knew this house by the name of “Dea” or “Goddess” after Luna who joys within this house. This house is associated with friendships due to the friendly Sextile aspect the house receives from the Ascendant, and since this house is under the Earth it is said to represent deeper, more family related friendships than the Eleventh house. Most significations of the Third house were traditionally derived from the association of this house with Luna, while that which is left over seems to have stemmed from the house’s cadency and Sextile aspect.
Such convenient crossover associations of the Third house and Mercury make for some interesting debate as to the creation of the Third house and its associations. Certainly such things as communication and short journeys fit easily under both the considerations of Mercury and Gemini, so it’s difficult to rid oneself of the illusion this particular house casts with the X=Y=Z system. Speaking and other such communicating mediums are certainly very Mercurial in fashion, as are the idea of short and frequent trips, but other things such as family and the neighborhood do not seem to add up so cleanly with the Mercurial archetype. Mercury’s association with the Third house stems from the anatomical regions of the hands, arms, and lungs that Gemini and the Third house share.
Traditionally, it is said Mars is co-significator of this house as the third planet from the firmament and brothers are called the “third accident” to occur after conception. The Third house relates to our familiar environment, and Mars is the desire to relate to that environment, this mixed in with his natural signification of brethren gave Mars co-significator status over this house. William Lilly explicitly states that for these reasons, Mars (unless in conjunction with Saturn) in this house is not at all a malevolent placement. However, looking at it philosophically, one could argue that the cadency, friendly aspect, and contrary-nature (effectively taking the ‘bite’ out of Mars) might also play into the benevolence of the placement and co-signification of the house.
The grand majority of Third house significations could be easily traced back to Mercury due to the obvious similarity in their significations, however, this would be the wrong sphere to point the finger at. More correctly, though, the Third house gained much signification due to Luna joying within it. Opposing the joyous Sol in the Ninth house, Luna has reached her Full phase in the Third house and enjoys ruling over the elemental world we inhabit. It is obvious that events on Earth are directly related to Luna, as the waters of the world increase and decrease with her. It is because of this that Luna (the closest sphere in relation to the Earth) came to signify neighboring environments. The idea of Luna as the messenger is most notably upheld in the branch of horary astrology, wherein Luna is most often found translating the effects of one planet to another via the Translation of Light as well as the Egyptian association of the Lunar god Thoth, scribe of the gods. Finally, the signification of short journeys was assigned to Luna due to her rapid movement through the sky and the short, monthly journey when compared to the annual voyages of the next nearest spheres.
Round Twelve, Second house: Venus/Taurus vs. Jupiter/Taurus
The Second house has also largely been unchanged. Remaining a house of material substance, however such significations as feelings and talents have entered into the mix over time as well. Ruled by Taurus – the Sign of material abundance and overindulgence – and Venus – the planet of the same – it’s no surprise that these significations seem to carry over so nicely. Venus being related to our sense of attraction may also explain why such things as self-esteem, self-worth, and skills and talents entered into the signification of the Second house.
Traditionally, the Second house stemmed from the same philosophies as the opposing Eighth house. Both houses represent a gate to the underworld, with the Second house being named ‘Anaphora’ or ‘rising up’. So, while the Eighth house is the entrance, the Second is the exit, the ultimate release from the underworld we entered six houses ago. In world mythologies, those who entered the underworld were not allowed to bring anything with them, and so had to remove their worldly possessions from their body (clothing, jewelry, etc) before entering. After anaphora (rising up) from the underworld, the body could be re-adorned with the possessions (or beliefs) originally cast aside.
Venus’s signification over money and other goods may make sense as Venus representing luxury, but otherwise the signification doesn’t hold up well. Venus has never been considered a planet relating to commerce and trade that would normally fall under another planet’s realm entirely. Venus is over-indulgent, making us spend more than we could afford, but has no sense of temperance that would be necessary to obtain a position as a commerce-based planet. Venus’s association with the Second house stems from her rulership of Taurus who – along with the Second house – comes to rule the neck and shoulders in medical situations.
The traditional co-significator of the Second house was awarded to Jupiter as the god of plenty and the star of wealth. The overwhelming, greater benefic powers of this sphere were an obvious match-up for the house of material wealth. Interestingly, the choices of houses for Jupiter to co-signify form a natural opposition. Jupiter co-signifies the Ninth house and the Second house, thus forming an interesting duality between the spiritual and the material significations of the respective houses.
By this point of this article it should be apparent that the differences in these two systems have made them incompatible, forcing astrologers to choose one or the other with no hope of rectification between the two systems. While the idea of rectifying the two systems into a one with both sides offering their unique perspectives on things and offering equal compromise would be ideal, the cold truth of the matter is that no such merging would occur. The modernists would not be so keen to give up their ideas of planetary influences on the psyche and the new and easy-to-use symbolism employed, and the traditionalists would not be so happy to give up their philosophical and mythological origins of symbolism.
Regardless of the system you as the reader employ, after reading this article you are aware of the origin of the symbols employed by your system and see the ways in which they differ. In truth, the majority of debates concerning astrological charts have stemmed through the confusion of house assignments. Hopefully this article will help relieve some of that conflict as well as fill in some holes that lead many to be confused and, in turn, doubt the traditional system of astrology.
Remember; the intention of this article is not to attempt to persuade people to adopt a particular type of astrology. The deal was that you could not be considered ignorant after completing the article.
Hampar, Joann. Electional Astrology: The Art of Timing. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2005.
Holden, Ralph. The Elements of House Division. London, England: Fowler, 1977
Houlding, Deborah. The Houses: Temples of the Sky. Bournemouth, England: Wessex Astrologer, 2006.
Lilly, William. Christian Astrology 1, 2, & 3. London, England: Regulus, 1647.
Sasportas, Howard. The Twelve Houses. London, England: Aquarian Press, 1985